What is problem gambling? Problem gambling, or compulsive gambling, includes all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits.
The characteristics of problem gambling include an increased preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, "chasing" losses, and loss of control demonstrated by continuing the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences.
Problem gambling is not a financial problem, but an emotional problem that has financial consequences.
Anyone who gambles can develop problems if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. When gambling behavior interferes with finances, relationships or the workplace, a serious problem already exists. The cause of a gambling problem is the individual's inability to control the gambling.
Therefore, any type of gambling can become problematic, just as an alcoholic can get drunk on any type of alcohol. Although no substance is ingested, the problem gambler gets the same effect from gambling as someone else might get from taking a tranquilizer or having a drink. The gambling alters the person's mood and the gambler keeps repeating the behavior attempting to achieve that same effect. Just as tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, the gambler finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before. This creates an increased craving for the activity and the gambler finds they have less and less ability to resist as the craving grows in intensity and frequency.
It is also important to note, that people who have one addiction are more at risk to develop another. Some problem gamblers also find they have a problem with alcohol or drugs. It does not, however, mean that if you have a gambling problem you will become addicted to other things. Some problem gamblers never experience any other addiction because no other substance or activity gives them the same feeling as the gambling does. There also appears to be evidence of family patterns regarding dependency as many problem gamblers report one or both parents had a drinking and/or gambling problem.
In a given year, 2 million U.S. adults are estimated to meet the criteria for pathological gambling. Another 4 - 6 million are considered to be problem gamblers, experiencing problems due to their gambling behavior. Research also indicates that most adults who choose to gamble are able to do so responsibly.
Help for gambling problems are available by calling the Council on Compulsive Gambling’s 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-GAMBLER, or Gamblers Anonymous in New Jersey at 855-222-5542.